#BookReview Essex Dogs by Dan Jones

Essex DogsAbout the Book

July 1346. The Hundred Years’ War has begun, and King Edward and his lords are on the march through France. But this war belongs to the men on the ground.

Swept up in the bloody chaos, a tight-knit company from Essex must stay alive long enough to see their home again. With sword, axe and longbow, the Essex Dogs will fight, from the landing beaches of Normandy to the bloodsoaked field of Crecy.

There’s Pismire, small enough to infiltrate enemy camps. Scotsman, strong enough to tear down a wall. Millstone, a stonemason who’ll do anything to protect his men. Father, a priest turned devilish by the horrors of war. Romford, a talented young archer on the run from his past. And Loveday FitzTalbot, their battle-scarred captain, who just wants to get his boys home safe.

Some men fight for glory. Others fight for coin. The Essex Dogs? They fight for each other.

Format: Hardback (464 pages)                Publisher: Head of Zeus
Publication date: 15th September 2022 Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

Essex Dogs is the first book in a new trilogy set during the Hundred Years’ War. It’s the author’s first foray into fiction (unless you count his novella The Tale of the Tailor and the Three Dead Kings) but on the evidence of Essex Dogs it’s clear he’s as adept at fiction as he is at non-fiction.

The events at the outset of the Hundred Years’ War are thrillingly brought to life through the escapades of the fictional Essex Dogs, a group of men of different ages, from different parts of what is today Great Britain and who speak different languages even. What unites them is a talent for fighting – whether with axe, sword or bow – a desire to make their fortunes and the bonds of comradeship. ‘We are who we are. We do what we do. We look after each other.’

This foul-mouthed, dishevelled brotherhood is ‘led’ by Loveday FitzTalbot from whose point of view we witness most of the action.  There are passing references and little nuggets of information about the backgrounds of the Essex Dogs, including mention of their previous leader, the enigmatic Captain.  (It would be great to learn more of their back stories – a prequel in the making perhaps?) Besides Loveday, the person we learn most about is Romford, a troubled young man for whom the Essex Dogs have become a sort of family. Other notable characters are Father, a rather demented priest, and Scotsman, a giant of a man whose talent for fighting is second only to his highly imaginative and extremely crude cursing. I also loved the mystical element introduced by way of the mysterious woman from Valognes.

Although the Essex Dogs are entirely the product of the author’s imagination, real historical figures play a part as well. Here I think the author really has some fun giving us a whiny Edward, The Black Prince and –  my favourite – an Earl of Northampton for whom the descriptions ‘colourful’ and ‘plain-speaking’ don’t do justice. He certainly gives Scotsman a run for his money when it comes to cursing with just about every utterance being peppered with the f-word and c-word. He’s the epitome of calling a spade a spade and not afraid to give his views on the foolishness of a proposed tactic. I would love to give you some examples of his imaginative cursing but most of them – actually all of them – are far too rude to repeat.

The book opens with a dramatic and bloody beach landing that could have come straight out of Saving Private Ryan or The Longest Day.  Then there’s a long and arduous march through France in an effort to meet with a constantly retreating French army, stopping only for a spot of pillaging along the way. As they trudge through wind and rain, I was reminded of the scenes in Kenneth Branagh’s film of Henry V in which he leads his bedraggled army. Towards the end of the book the action really picks up with some terrific battle scenes, culminating with the Battle of Crécy.  There is a real sense of the confusion of battle, the sheer brutality of hand-to-hand combat and of course the triumph of English longbows over French crossbows.

I thought Essex Dogs was a brilliant start to what promises to be a fantastic trilogy. And if you love a last minute revelation or an intriguing epilogue, then look no further.

I received a digital review copy courtesy of Head of Zeus via NetGalley.

In three words: Authentic, vivid, action-packed

Try something similar: The Blooding by David Gilman

Dan JonesAbout the Author

Dan Jones is the Sunday Times and New York Times bestselling author of ten non-fiction books, including The Templars, The Colour of Time and Powers and Thrones. He is a renowned writer, broadcaster and journalist, and has for many years wanted to write authentic but action-packed historical fiction. He lives near London with his family.

Connect with Dan
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3 thoughts on “#BookReview Essex Dogs by Dan Jones

  1. I am familiar with Dan Jones through his TV work. This does sound like a really interesting read too!

    Thanks for sharing this review with the Historical Fiction Reading Challenge


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